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Ietsitsionni Loft-Pompana starts her wrestling matches today at the North American Games. She’s a formidable rugby player, too. (Supplied by: Ietsitsionni Loft-Pompana) Ietsitsionni Loft-Pompana, 16, grew up in Tyendinaga, Ont., a small Indigenous community where baseball and lacrosse reign supreme.

This week, she’s not playing either sport at the North American Indigenous Games. Instead, she’ll be battling it out in the wrestling ring.

When Loft-Pompana hit high-school age, the thought of failing to connect with anyone at her new school terrified her. "So I signed up for sports to try to make friends. Rugby, wresting, lacrosse — it gave me friends I think will be long-term," Loft-Pompana said.

The intrepid teen turned out to be a multi-talented athlete — even at sports she didn’t realize existed.

Loft-Pompana was tapped for the wrestling team by her high school coach, who saw her potential one day on the rugby field.

"I never actually knew about wrestling. I was thinking of WWE stuff," she laughed, referencing the entertainment company notorious for its use of metal folding chairs as weapons. "I went to my first practice and it was not what I expected."

Her first time on the mat, "everything clicked," she said. "I dominated my first tournament. Ever since then I’ve been a wrestler." Wrestling more like chess

She practiced only twice more before competing in her first serious match. "I kind of grasped the moves but I didn’t think that in the heat of the moment I could do them," she recalled. "When you’re on the mat it’s so intense that your mind blanks."

But when the referee blew the whistle, everything came to her. She says she executed the complex moves perfectly.

"It’s not body structure, height or weight" that’s key to winning, she said. "I’ve seen girls I could probably lift with one arm just dominate people bigger than them."

Instead, wrestling demands close attention to technique and strategy.

"You really have to have a fast mind," she said, describing the chess-like logic employed by a wrestler on the mat, who needs to hold several attacks and their defences in mind simultaneously, ready for whatever their opponent selects. Loft-Pompana says wrestling doesn’t get the attention it deserves, and wants to bring wrestling instruction to children in her community. (Supplied by: Ietsitsionni Loft-Pompana) This year Loft-Pompana represented her school at the provincial level. Her winning move was a "duck under," she says, explaining how she got behind her opponent.

Then she locked her into a bear hug. "That’s when you squeeze all the air out of them and lift them up," she explained. "Then smack them down."

Once the opponent is on the mat, wrestlers employ ground moves."That’s where the strength comes in handy."

The half-nelson is her favourite. "You lock her one arm into your arm, and press the flat of your elbow into their neck," she said. "It’s really effective to get them into a pin." Wrestler looks to bring sport home

Loft-Pompana started wrestling only two years ago."I think I’ve gone a long way," she said, but laments that she couldn’t have started earlier, noting that there’s not much to play on her reserve aside from baseball and lacrosse. "We don’t have as many sports as we should. We should have more opportunities for our younger kids."That includes her 12-year-old brother. "He idolizes the fact that I wrestle. He thinks it’s so cool. He keeps asking for when he goes to high school who the coaches are, what the moves are, what tournaments he’ll go to."For now, the siblings shadow wrestle, with Loft-Pompana showing her brother the moves without actually touching him. "He’s a little too scared to do […]

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